The lesson Sunderland must learn from Charlton, Portsmouth and Ipswich Town ahead of their next fixture
Sunderland travel to Doncaster Rovers this weekend as they look to bounce back in League One – and we’ve got the inside track on the South Yorkshire side.
Rovers have already secured eye-catching results against Charlton Athletic, Portsmouth and Ipswich Town this season, and Sunderland will do well to learn some lessons from their triumphs against other teams in promotion contention.
So what did Doncaster do against those teams, where are they vulnerable and how can Phil Parkinson succeed where other teams failed?
We asked Liam Hoden of the Doncaster Free Press some key questions ahead of Saturday’s game:
How have Rovers' performances been during the early weeks of the season?
LH: The performances have been largely very good - particularly against the top teams in the division.
They've beaten Charlton, Portsmouth, Ipswich and Lincoln - the latter two were top of the league heading into the games - and deservedly so on each occasion.
They've played some superb possession, attack-minded football. Give them time and space on the ball and it will be a very difficult afternoon for the opposition.
Rovers have struggled to break down teams that set out to shut them down but there have been very few poor performances overall.
What kind of game plan do you expect them to implement against Sunderland?
LH: If it is anything like performances against the other top teams they will aim to be very organised, press hard and high up the pitch and deny Sunderland the opportunity to get into their groove.
And when they're in possession they'll look to play with pace and move the ball quickly to get up the pitch. If they get the opportunity to dominate the ball, they will take it and are capable of shutting out the opposition entirely.
Against Lincoln they went a lot more direct than we've become accustomed to under Darren Moore and it paid off.
Are there any weaknesses in the squad that Sunderland could take advantage of?
LH: The biggest weakness that can be exploited is the difficulty Rovers have in breaking down teams that deny them time on the ball.
It starts with cutting off the supply out from the back, through the defence and into midfield. They have shown on multiple occasions this season that they lose composure in such circumstances.
I'm not sure that would necessarily be in Sunderland's nature but if they can shut Rovers down at source, they would likely have success.
Rovers have shown a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal on occasion this season which has proved costly.
Who are the players Sunderland will have to keep a close eye on during Saturday's game?
LH: Ben Whiteman is the big one. With every transfer window that passes it is baffling how clubs are not banging down the door with offers Rovers cannot refuse. He has developed into one of, if not the best, midfielders in the division. He receives the ball out from the back and dictates play for Rovers from deep but is just as adept at creating from higher up the pitch too. Since taking on the captaincy last season he's shown himself to be a natural leader, even at 24.
Southampton loan winger Josh Sims is another that has looked very bright since joining on deadline day. He's very quick, has a great touch and is very direct. Like Whiteman, he looks like he's playing at least a level below where he should be.
Centre half Tom Anderson has been dominant at the back for Rovers over the last 18 months and seems to have been operating under the radar as one of the best defenders at the level.
What do you think the score will be?
LH: I think it will be tight and could go either way. So I'll sit on the fence at 1-1.